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A Public Meeting Could Be What Helps Save the Contaminated Hudson River

The August 9 meeting in NYC will address the clean-up of cancer-causing PCBs dumped in the Hudson for decades.

This is an opinion piece Ned Sullivan of Scenic Hudson, an organization that fights to preserve the natural resources of the Hudson River Valley.

New York City residents have the chance on August 9 to make their voices heard—that they want a clean river in their backyards, with fish and water that are safe and healthy. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 2 office is holding a public meeting about the state of the Hudson River, and this is your chance to let the agency know you want dangerous contaminants that taint the river cleaned up once and for all.


Many don't realize they live on the banks of one of America's largest toxic waste sites—the Hudson River—or that this pollution directly threatens their health. Cancer-causing PCBs dumped in the Hudson by General Electric from the 1940s to 1977 continue to pose significant health threats to anyone living along or near the 200-mile stretch of the river between GE's now-shuttered manufacturing plants and the Battery. They also hamper efforts to realize the Hudson's full economic potential, including along New York's port and waterfront.

In 2015, GE completed six years of dredging to remove PCB-contaminated sediment from upriver locations near its former factories. The EPA Region 2 office, which is overseeing the cleanup of what's known as the Hudson River Superfund Site, is currently conducting a review to determine if the project has achieved its goals to "be protective of human health and the environment." It is accepting comments on the report until September 1.

PCB toxicity in the Hudson's fish remains at unacceptably high levels, threatening the health of any who consume them.

The upcoming public meeting is your opportunity to tell officials the answer to that question—an emphatic no. The cleanup will not protect your health, your river.

In its draft of the review, the EPA explicitly states that the cleanup currently "is not protective." The agency is correct in this finding, and you should let them know you want this to be the major conclusion of its review. This is because inhabitants of riverfront communities still face increased risks—not only of cancer but neurological disorders (including autism) and heart disease. Drinking water in communities along the river is in jeopardy as well.


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PCB toxicity in the Hudson's fish remains at unacceptably high levels, threatening the health of any who consume them, especially lower-income families and minorities who subsist on them despite health warnings. Studies also link airborne PCBs to many diseases for residents of the region.

However, in its draft report, the EPA makes the unsubstantiated claim that the cleanup "will be protective"—in 53 years. While this in itself is decades too long to wait for a clean Hudson, the finding is contradicted by scientific evidence. Another federal agency (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) with jurisdiction over the long-term health of the river has concluded it will take a century or longer for the river to recover. New York's environmental agency also has challenged EPA's findings, calling for more cleanup. The EPA has acknowledged the upper Hudson was polluted with three to five times more PCB contamination than it originally estimated. It made this discovery after approving GE's dredging plan, yet did nothing to expand its scope. It's not surprising that contamination in the river is still significantly higher than expected. The EPA draft report says time and nature will take care of the problem, but science shows the PCBs will just float downriver and continue to contaminate the lower Hudson, including the New York-New Jersey harbor.


PCB contamination compromises the Hudson's economic and recreational values.

In its draft review, the EPA concedes that upriver dredging has not reduced PCB contamination in the lower Hudson. Its hope was that removing polluted sediment upriver would halt PCBs from flowing south toward New York City. In fact, PCB contamination in the lower Hudson is much greater than expected.

At the public meeting, you should call on EPA to do something about this—to immediately undertake a study of the extent of contamination and what is required to clean up this mess.

In addition to jeopardizing public health, PCB contamination compromises the Hudson's economic and recreational values. It has destroyed a once-vibrant commercial fishing industry, hampered the operation of marinas, led to a severe curtailment of marine transport between the NY-NJ Harbor and Champlain Canal, tripled the costs of dredging the city's harbor, prevented ambitious economic development opportunities, and barred generations of residents and visitors from full enjoyment of the river.

Learn more about the draft review by attending the EPA's August 9 information session in midtown Manhattan. It offers a critical opportunity for residents to declare that the cleanup is "not protective" of human health and the environment, and that additional dredging is necessary.

If you can't make it in person, I strongly urge you to weigh in by providing the EPA with written comments. Tell the EPA to determine the cleanup "is not protective"; delete the false claim that the cleanup "will be protective"; undertake an immediate investigation of contamination in the lower Hudson; and start preparing a plan to remove it.

Only additional dredging will make the Hudson healthy as soon as possible. By taking the above steps, the EPA can pave the way for this to happen. For the sake of future generations, I'm counting on you to help it see the light.